While everyone's been speculating on whether Apple would release an "iPad Mini" (all but certain) for the holidays to compete with the well-liked Google/Asus Nexus 7 and the anemic Amazon.com Kindle Fire, Amazon.com has been working to reinvent and improve on the Kindle Fire. As we learned yesterday, the new Kindle Fires -- there'll be both 7-inch and 9-inch models -- to be released in November are the fruit of that effort. They're aimed squarely at the iPad's home users, as Amazon.com seeks to supplant the iTunes-centric Apple ecosystem with an Amazon-centric one.
The tech press loves to write about "wars" between vendors, but this battle is indeed worthy of the label. If the new Kindle Fires displace iPads at home, the collateral damage could change the iPad's role in business, too, in a way that diminishes the BYOD phenomenon.
The importance of iTunes beyond the home
In work environments, iTunes is typically dismissed as irrelevant, but work usage is only a fraction of why people adopt iPads, and it's iTunes that forms the core rationale for an iPad as a home entertainment device. Google has finally figured that out, with its Google Play strategy not just for the Nexus 7 but for the entire Android and struggling Chrome OS platforms. Even Microsoft now understands that need to appeal to all aspects of a person, as its Windows Store/Xbox strategy shows for the forthcoming Windows 8.
For Apple, iTunes sales of music, videos, and books already brings it more revenues than iPods do. Apple has steadily moved from being a hardware company to a services-based platform company. Last fall, Amazon.com introduced the original Kindle Fire hardware to move from being a content-delivery company to a services-based platform company, but that hardware was underpowered and its user interface clumsy; after the initial sales spike, sales faded.
Google, perhaps perturbed that Amazon.com took its Android OS to create a platform that didn't tap into the Android Market (later renamed Google Play), came out with its own Nexus 7 tablet. Like the Fire, the Nexus 7 is focused on delivering content; it has revved its Chrome OS to support that content as well. Although the all-Google content platform simply isn't as good as what Apple delivers via iTunes and iCloud to Macs, PCs, and iOS devices, the Nexus 7 easily outclasses the original Kindle Fire.
Not any more. Based on what Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos showed yesterday, Amazon.com has grown serious about hardware design, unveiling an 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD tablet with 32GB of storage, fast Wi-Fi (using two antennas in addition to the 5GHz spectrum), stereo speakers (the iPad is still painfully mono), and built-in LTE 4G, all for $499. That's $230 less than the comparable, 9.7-inch iPad (which also has 5GHz Wi-Fi, but just one antenna) and much superior to Google's Nexus 7 hardware. Amazon.com rounded out its offerings with an updated 7-inch Kindle Fire whose hardware is now equivalent to the Nexus 7, as well as an updated Kindle e-reader with an even more readable screen.
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